OldTools is a mailing list catering to the interests of old hand tool aficionados, both collectors and users. To quote from the OldTools list charter:
The purpose of this list is to provide an entertaining, not-quite-moderated, light-hearted, fun, jolly, happy, informative forum to discuss the history, usage, value, location, availability, collectibility, and restoration of traditional tools, including woodworking tools.
OldTools is a very casual place-- The popular image is that of a back porch get-together. People come and go, swap stories, ask questions of the "old-timers", and just generally engage in friendly discussion of the old tool topics of the day.
OldTools is set up as a subscription-based mailing list. The way it works is that interested people "subscribe" to the list. This allows them to send email messages to a centralized server, which will in turn send the mail to all other subscribers.
The way it works is like this:
When a subscriber sends email to firstname.lastname@example.org (the "listserver"), it automatically forwards the email to all of the other subscribers. This allows all 1300+ of the OldTools subscribers around the world to carry on an email "conversation".
OldTools is a very active group, and will often generate 100+ emails each day. Most users set up "filters" to move their OldTools mail into a special folder, but even with filtering the number of message can be a problem to deal with.
To help with the large volume of messages, the OldTools list has an option to receive your messages in "Digest" form. If you enable digest mode you will only one message per day-- this "digest" will contain all messages set to the OldTools list that day.
If you want to post messages to the OldTools list you must subscribe. If, however, you simply wish to follow the discussions in OldTools without joining in, you can "lurk" by using the web archive.
We recommended that all new list users "lurk" for a while before subscribing-- this allows you to get a feel for the group's dynamics, as well as the volume of messages.
The OldTools web archive is maintained by list member Chris Swingley at Swingley Development
This archive contains virtually ALL of the messages sent to the OldTools list over its entire existence, and is updated every time someone posts a new message.
There is also an older archive found on eGroups (Yahoo Groups), but this archive has been non-functional for some time. The Swingley archive contains all of the same posts from the one on Yahoo, plus many others from before the Yahoo archive was created, so you are better off using the Swingley archive.
Subscribing to the OldTools list is very simple. All list maintenance is handled via the links at the top of this page. Please bookmark this page, as you will need to come back to it occasionally!
To subscribe, simply hit the [Subscribe] link at the top of the page. You will need to provide your name, a valid email address, and a password. These values will be used to uniquely identify you with the server.
When the server processes your request, you will receive a confirmation email to make sure you really want to log on (this prevents folks from spoofing addresses, which we have had some trouble with in the past). Replying to this mail will start your subscription. Once you are subscribed, you will be sent a welcome message and instructions for using the listserver.
Once you are subscribed, you can use the [Options] link at any time to change your mail options or password.
After logging in, you have several options for mail delivery. Your options can be set at the bottom of the page after logging in. Be sure to press the "Submit My Changes" button at the bottom if you've changed your account settings.
Mail delivery choices include:
There are other options on that page. Feel free to customize your preferences as you see fit.
To permanently sign off of OldTools, select the [Unsubscribe] link. This will permanently remove you from the OldTools distribution list-- To rejoin you will need to re-subscribe.
If you use an incorrect password or email address when logging on to the oldtools list, it will return you to the same screen with an error. At the bottom is a "Password reminder" section. Just fill in your email address press the "Remind" button to have your password mailed to you. It may take up to a hour to receive your password.
If you are unable to retrieve mail from that address, you will need to contact the OldTools "List Moms" to reset your password.
There are two return addresses on each message you receive from OldTools: The first is the address of the mailing list, and the second is the address of the person who sent the message. Messages sent to the first address will be sent to ALL subscribers of OldTools, while messages sent to the second will be sent only to the user who wrote the message.
By default, selecting "reply" from your mail program will send a private message to the individual user, while selecting "reply to all" or "reply to list", will send it to the entire list.
It is important to consider the content of your reply when choosing which address to send to. If your message is of general interest to the members of the group, then reply to the list server, otherwise reply to the author of the message. When publicly replying to a message, it is also important that you read all previous replies to the message -- someone may have already answered the question, and another answer may not be needed.
It is important to realize that the readers of OldTools use a bewildering array of operating systems and mail readers, some of which are quite primitive compared to the fancier packages in use today. To make sure that all members can read your posts, it is important that you follow a few rules:
As with all technology, there are occasional problems with the list that can stop the flow of mail. In general, when you stop getting mail from the list it will be one of two problems:
The easiest way to determine if the server is working is to check the Swingley archive for the list. If you cannot connect with the archive or the archive has no new messages from the list few hours, the problem is likely at the server end (and beyond your control). If you wait for a while, the mail flow will normally resume.
If the server is working and you are not getting mail, the problem is most likely at your end. If your account "bounces" more than 5 messages in a row, the server will automatically stop sending mail to you. If this happens, you will be placed in "Held" mode. When the problem is resolved, You will need to check your OldTools account and restart your mail by selecting one of the other mail options.
Sometimes you may try to send a message to the OldTools group and receive a reply stating "Only members of the OldTools list are permitted to post."
This normally means your mail address has changed. It is not uncommon for ISP's and corporations to reorganize their mail servers and give everyone new addresses. They usually forward from the old address to the new one, but the listserv will only accept posts from those who have subscribed, and it won't recognise your new address. The procedure is to resubscribe under the new address and then ask a listmom to delete the old one.
First and foremost, participate! But beyond that, the List is currently hosted on a server purchased and maintained by ListMom Chris Swingley. If you want to help him pay for this, you can contribute by making a PayPal payment to email@example.com.
If you encounter a problem that can't be handled via the Web Interface, you can contact the "List Moms" (the folks who run the list) by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note that it may take a day or two to get back to you, as there are only a couple of people who do this, and they are not always on line when you need them.
There are several excellent sources of information on old tools (and hand tools in general) available on the internet.
The Hand Tool FAQ (frequently asked questions)is a general purpose document containing a collection of questions and answers to common questions about hand tools. It contains general information about acquiring, tuning, and using many kinds of hand tools. The FAQ is posted monthly to rec.woodworking and news.answers, and is also available on-line.
Collectors of Stanley planes will find the "Stanley Blood & Gore" by Patrick Leach to be an invaluable asset. It has years of production, descriptions, and sizes of EVERY kind of plane Stanley produced, up until the 1960's. As well as being incredibly informative, it is a delightful read. The SB&G is available directly from the author (email@example.com), or on-line (with pictures of some models).
The premier WWW site for OldToolies is "The Electronic Neanderthal" site maintained by OldTools member Allan Fisher. This site contains a trove of useful information, including a list of sources for new and used hand tools, a list of collector's organizations, a "Lore" section containing documents on hand tool collecting and techniques, and a bunch of links to other woodworking-related WWW sites.
The following books have been recommended by OldTools members as good sources of information:
"Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools" by Michael Dunbar
Sterling Publishing Co, Inc., 1989
"Antique and Collectible Stanley Tools: a guide to identity and value" by John Walters
Tool Merchant, 1996
"Dictionary of Woodworking Tools" by R. A. Salaman
The Taunton Press, 1990
"Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings" by Aldren A. Watson
Lyons & Burford, 1996
"The Practical Woodworker" by Bernard E. Jones (ed.)
Ten Speed Press, 1983
There is also a magazine dedicated to the collecting of old tools:
The Fine Tool Journal
27 Fickett Rd.
Pownal, ME 04069
Most general woodworking magazines will also carry the occasional old tool article (typically something like tuning your planes).
The two largest tool collecting organizations in North America are:
Mid-West Tool Collectors Association
104 Engle Court
Franklin, TN 37069-6101
Both of these organizations publish newsletters and hold several meetings a year (usually with a dealer sale or auction).
There are also a host of regional tool collector's groups in various parts of the country. A list of regional organizations can be found on the Electronic Neanderthal WWW site.
There are many antique dealers who specialize in old tools, including a few which are regular contributors to OldTools. Buying a tool from a reputable dealer is usually your safest bet-- you can assume that the dealer will have inspected the tool and will provide you with a fair rating. Of course, this quality and expertise comes at a price-- buying from a dealer is usually more expensive than other channels.
This expertise is particularly valuable to "newbies" who may not be aware of the finer points of what differentiates a useable tool from a rusty chunk of iron. You can think of the premium paid to a dealer as the cost of the dealer's experience.
The Electronic Neanderthal WWW site holds a nice list of dealers in its "sources" section, including a few who sell via email.
A cheaper (but potentially riskier) source of tools is old tool auctions. Most of the tool collector's groups hold auctions several times a year, offering a large variety of tools. The price paid at auction will usually be less than what you would pay a dealer for a similar item, but you need to be comfortable with your ability to rate a tool. Many auctioneers are now including the "Fine Tool Journal" rating of each tool in the catalog listing, to help those who submit absentee bids. This same rating can also benefit the less knowledgeable-in general, you should probably only buy tools with G+ or better ratings until you are comfortable with restoring and tuning old tools.
The cheapest (and riskiest) source of tools is the flea market/garage sale/estate auction circuit. Here you will occasionally find old tools at ridiculously low prices ($1 saws, $5 planes, etc.), but you are buying from someone who knows nothing about the tool. There is no guarantee that the tool has all of the parts, much less is in a shape which can be restored.
If you do go this route for buying tools, rest assured you will make a bad buy or two. At the price you pay, though, it is often worth the occasional mistake...
As mentioned above, most of the national and regional tool collectors groups will sponsor one or more sales/auctions each year. These will be listed in the organization newsletter.
There are also a number of large dealers and auction houses which run periodic old tool auctions. The largest and best known tool auctions are the "Live Free or Die" auctions hosted by Martin Donnelly. These are hosted several times a year in New Hampshire and Indiana, and offer on-line catalogs and other modern auction ameneties. See Martin Donnelly's website for details.
A list of upcoming auctions around the country is also maintained at the Electronic Neanderthal WWW site "Events" section.
Old tools are a piece of history, and the marks of use can be a charming insight into the previous owner(s) and their work habits. But in many cases, years of improper storage and other neglect will leave a tool in a state which prevents it from functioning properly. Restoration is often needed, but how much is too much?
The vogue in past years was to restore a tool to as-new condition. Many good tools were subjected to abrasion and chemical cleaning to make the tool shiny and new. Japanned parts were stripped and repainted, and brass was shined to a mirror finish. While this may have made the tool pretty, it all but eliminated the historical significance.
More recently, collectors have become much more conservative with their restoration efforts. Typically, tools are now cleaned instead of refinished, which maintains the wonderful patina which can only be acquired from years of use.
In general, restoration should be done sparingly. It is very easy to do a little more later, but impossible to do a little less. Cleaning and enough tuning to make the tool usable are usually all that is needed.
Generally acceptable procedures are:
Things to be done only occasionally and with good reason:
Things severely frowned upon:
You will often see mentions in OldTools of things like "#5", "#78", and so on. These are usually the Stanley part number for a plane.
Stanley's numbering scheme for planes defies all logical description, but a few generalities can be made.
#1-#8 are the Stanley "Bailey" bench planes. The smaller numbers correspond to smaller planes: #1-#4 are smoothers, #5 is a jack, #6 is a fore plane, and #7 and #8 are jointers. All of these models except the #1 were also available with corrugated soles, which was indicated by appending a "C" to the number (i.e. #4C would be a corrugated sole smoother).
The Stanley "Bedrock" bench planes follow the same numbering sequence, but use numbers in the 600s. For instance, a #607 is the Bedrock equivalent of the #7. There is no #601.
Stanley's "transitional" Bailey planes (wooden soles with iron guts) are numbered from #21 to #36. Again, smaller numbers indicate smaller planes (with 2 exceptions): #21-#24 are tote-less smoothers, #25 is a block, #26-#27 are jacks, #28-#29 are fore planes, and #30-34 are jointers. The exceptions to the numbering scheme are #35 and #36-- these are handled smoothers.
Other commonly encountered numbers are:
Most of the Stanley bench planes have the word "Bailey" cast into them in very conspicuous spots. In many cases the word "Bailey" is more prominent than the word "Stanley".
The "Bailey" is in honor of the man who invented and patented the cutter adjustment mechanism used on Stanley Bench planes, Leonard Bailey of Boston. Bailey was a manufacturer of metal planes in the mid-1800's, who sold his patent and manufacturing rights to his planes to Stanley in 1869. Stanley began production of metal planes that year, using many of Leonard Bailey's patents.
Several Stanley planes have well-known type studies, which help to determine approximate date of manufacture based on the features present/lacking in a particular tool. The EAIA publishes several of these, and several of the more prominent ones (the bench plane and #45 studies in particular) have been reprinted elsewhere.
A Stanley bench plane type study flow-chart created by list member Jay Sutherland is also available online.
Another handy trick for establishing approximate age of tools is to look for US patent dates on the tool. Many manufacturers cast or embossed patent dates in their tools in times past, either to discourage competitors' copying the tool or as an advertising ploy. The presence of a patent date will give you an absolute maximum age for the tool (the date of the patent), and help you guess at the minimum age as well, since patents expire after 17 years.
If you believe the advertising hype, combination planes like the Stanley #45 and #55 and the Record Multiplane will obviate the need for a large variety of other planes. After all, these planes can cut:
and many others! Why, a #55 was once advertised as "a planing mill within itself!"
As usual, the hype pales in comparison with reality. A tool designed to do many things will usually do none of them as well as the tool designed for each specific task, and combination planes are no exception.
The main problem with combination planes is the lack of a fixed mouth-- the cutter is supported only at one or two points, and there is no bearing surface ahead of the blade. This makes these planes very susceptible to tearout problems.
These planes are also notoriously "fidgety" to adjust. There are many different parts which need to be adjusted properly to get a good cutting action (particularly on the #55).
Despite these problems, though, many people use these tools with good results. Careful stock selection can minimize tearout, and attention to setup can alleviate adjustment difficulties. Many woodworkers will start with a #45 to get a lot of capability in one package, and replace it with single-purpose planes gradually over time.
According to our illustrious GM, Patrick Olguin, the origin of the term "Galoot" as an honorific is as follows:
A long time ago, in a newsgroup far away, a discussion of saw-sharpening arose among the hunched and bent-backed. Several of this curious group, seeking to find further enlightenment on saw-sharpening (sawsets, and their operation, in particular), scurried to the relative safety of 4-way e-mail to discuss the arcane nature of this mostly-forgotten tool.
A day or so into the conversation, I was invited by Porthos, Athos, Darta.. oops! Wrong group. It was Huey, Louie, Dewey.. no no no! Steve LaMantia, Geoff Mason, Mike Davies, and Bruce Haugen invited me into their discussion to see if I could shed any light on the situation (some historians claim that they just needed someone to kick around).
It was fascinating. The discussion went on for days. The productivity at each of their employers plummeted. Finally, after much speculation, reading, debating, and almost no name-calling (I think I was called a few) Mike Davies managed to get his hands on some actual literature on the ubiquitous Stanley #42. He faxed it to each of "the five", as they came to be known, and then a strange thing happened. It can only be described as fate.
Within minutes, each person, on his own, contacted a renowned old-tool dealer, inquiring as to the availability and cost of a Stanley #42 pistol grip saw set. I think I was the last to contact him (I'm a slow typist), and the response I got from Patrick Leach was (paraphrased):
WTF is going on here? I'm sittin' here, minding my own business, when in the span of a couple seconds, I get e-mail from five galoots, demanding saw sets! What're you guys smokin' anyway?!
The exact verbiage is lost somewhere in cyberspace, but the key word was there: Galoot. It suited us. We are a little strange.
New list members will notice that many posts contain parenthetical asides to a person named "Jeff". These asides are directed to long-time list member Jeff Gorman of the UK.
The asides started because in the earliest days of the list, folks would throw around Stanley plane numbers without regard for the folks who didn't know what the various numbers meant. Jeff would respond with the occasional "Wazzat Den?" (he is a Yorkshireman, after all), and eventually asked that folks be considerate of those who did not memorize the Stanley product line by explaining what the number referred to in their posts.
It started out as a bit of good-natured ribbing, along the lines of "can I use a #5 (jack plane, Jeff) for edge jointing?", and just kinda stuck. Now almost any slang or Americanism comes with an aside directed at Jeff, while the British and Australian contingents respond with asides for Paddy (former listowner Patrick Olguin).
Unlike most other lists, the OldTools charter expressly allows commercial postings by its members, with the stipulation that the sellers also participate in the group's discussions. In short, we don't mind if you sell old tools via the list, so long as you pass on your expertise with it.
In the interest of keeping the buying and selling message traffic small enough to not get in the way of the real purpose of the list, a few guidelines have been established:
Over the years of old tool hawking on the internet, a de facto set of standard sale conditions have been adopted by many of the email dealers. These terms have come to be known as "OldTools Standard Terms".
OldTools Standard Terms are as follows:
You will notice that this relies heavily on the integrity of the buyer, thus putting the seller at risk. Buyers need to be sensitive to this fact, and handle their end of the bargain promptly and fairly.
Sellers are not obligated to work on these terms, and do so at their own risk. The List Moms will not take sides or assist in any way regarding disputes.
A lot of folks on the list buy and sell old tools on eBay, and in the past we have had some issues arise over this. Because of this, we ask that list members adhere to the following guidelines:
The following acronyms, nicknames, and slang terms show up alot in OldTools postings: